Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Examining Fear

“He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.”

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Before I came into treatment and entered recovery, I was ruled by fear. Fear seemed to be a guiding force in my life. I was afraid of nearly everything, and, because of fear, I developed a deep seated hatred of many things. It was a short, simple leap from feeling vulnerable about a situation or a person to hatred of that person or situation in my addicted brain. I remember feeling horrible anxiety every time I was in a group of three or more people, and, as a result, withdrawing from those groups. I was afraid of sobriety, so I withdrew even further into drugs and alcohol. Eventually, I became so accustomed to these feelings that my fears took me out of life entirely. It was a self-defeating cycle; I was afraid to do anything, yet, even more afraid to change anything.

It is not surprising to me that fear is the most basic of emotions. Fear itself is not necessarily a negative thing. Evolutionarily fear is an almost instinctual condition by which our brains promote survival of the individual. Usually, fears can be traced back to anticipation of threatening events or the presence of a threatening event, and were used in early humans to avoid the dangers and pitfalls of hunting and gathering.

For the alcoholic and the addict, these fear instincts are skewed greatly by one’s perception of the world. For me, it was fear of rejection, judgment and failure; my faulty perception used these fears to hijack my life. Many alcoholics/addicts are driven by fear, even if they don’t realize or acknowledge it.  Sometimes, these fears are masked with a gamut of other emotions ranging from rage to depression to false happiness presented to the outside world. Personally, I had learned to smile whenever I felt a twinge of fear, as it was much safer to go on smiling away than to expose what was really going on inside. 
There are really two types of feelings, “pursuit” feelings (such as pleasurable or comfortable feelings) and “avoidance” feelings (such as uncomfortable or bad feelings). These two categories not only separate feelings themselves, but also the responses to them. Fear is an “avoidance” feeling, and people, not just the alcoholic/addict, tend to avoid the things that cause them fear. The significant difference is that the everyday person often knows how to handle these fears, and the addict falls easily into the avoidance response, as this is frequently the more comfortable solution.
When sobering up, many alcoholic/addicts are plunged into a world where everything is suddenly very real. Initially, they have little ability to cope with this reality. Luckily, twelve step programs give the newly sober addict social support and tools with which to deal with this new world.
When relating the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson to me, the path to recovery from drug and alcohol addiction taught me the meaning of life by teaching me to conquer fears. Actually, this can be applied to anyone suffering with fear, as the best way to deal with it is to turn and face the situation, thing, or person of which one is fearful, head on. Eventually, by doing this, fears may be overcome. In my experience, however, it can be a slow process, as I have had to walk through many fearful situations that feel endless.
In the rooms of AA and Al-Anon, there is a saying that “Fear stands for ‘Face Everything and Recover.’” Twelve step programs offer tools with which to examine the causes and conditions of our fear. Learning to talk openly about my feelings, getting beneath the fears that had held me for so long, I was able to learn who I really am. I believe that this is what recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction really is; it is about seeing who you are at a root level and working to change that. Even the most basic emotion such as fear can be a crucial building block to creating a happier lifestyle.

No matter who or where you are, dear reader, take a risk and face your fears.

What are you afraid of? Leave us a comment, any feedback is appreciated.